January 29th, 2008
10:30 AM ET
12 years ago

State of the Union: Awkward moment

The presidential contenders meet on neutral terrain.

The presidential contenders meet on neutral terrain.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - It could have been a moment for Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to demonstrate the civility they say we need in our politics.

Oh, well.

Before the President entered the House Chamber for the State of the Union address, Clinton took a seat three chairs and an aisle away from Obama. While members of Congress were still greeting one another, Clinton crossed the aisle to speak with Democratic Rep. Jim Langvin of Rhode Island, a Clinton supporter. He was seated in front of Obama.

While Clinton was bent over talking to Langvin, who has been in a wheelchair since age 16, the senator sitting next to Barack Obama watched Clinton intently. It was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who had made a splash by endorsing Obama earlier in the day.

Here’s where it could have happened.

When Clinton straightened up, Kennedy quickly reached across Barack Obama to shake Clinton’s hand. She took it. As they spoke, Obama turned away. Then the senators seated to Obama’s right – Ben Nelson and Ken Salazar - both shook Senator Clinton’s hand and talked to her. Instead of doing the same, Obama turned to look at the back of the room. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has also endorsed Obama and was seated next to Kennedy, reached across the Massachusetts senator - who was still talking to Clinton - and tapped Obama (still twisted toward the back of the room) on the shoulder. McCaskill engaged Obama in conversation until the moment passed.

It all lasted less than five minutes. Neither acknowledged the other all night.

UPDATE: Speaking about the moment Tuesday morning, Obama advisor David Axelrod said in an interview on MSNBC the Illinois senator was not trying to snub Clinton.

"I think he knew that Senator Kennedy and Senator Clinton were friends," he said. "This was obviously an awkward day from that standpoint, and I don't think he wanted to stand there while Senator Kennedy was greeting Senator Clinton. And I think that was an appropriate sentiment."

–CNN's Jessica Yellin

soundoff (2,013 Responses)
  1. Doreen Ellis

    This is the second time Senator Obama "dissed" Senator Clinton. The first was a public debate when he answered a question on her likeability. My friends and I noticed the photo in the paper. It was apparent he turned his back. Senator Obama has to be careful. It seems he gets careless when he wins. I also believe he is not a uniter by this action but full of anger.

    January 29, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  2. skh4450IL

    Choose your battles CNN.

    No news here, and you people are falling for it.....hilarious!

    Obama '08

    January 29, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  3. Bob Marley

    Hillary is the worst candidate to ever run, for all of her book-learning she lacks common sense and has taken her comments and conduct too far. Her husband needs a good punch in the gut for his deplorable comments, very un-statesmanlike and embarising to ex-Presidential conduct. Good for Obama for snubbing that sneaky, lying, two-faced, camelion (Mrs. Clinton in case you were thinking about her spouse). I wouldn't give her the time of day much less shake her icey cold hand. Someone here mentioned that you have to get along and be political in Washington? BS, that's the problem now, no one actually stands up and consistantly states what they actually believe in Washington, all being servants to PAC's and their re-election money. Would you rather see him shake her hand and smile, knowing full well that he really doesn't mean it or actually see a candidate being honest and simply not speak to her as he did? She brought this on herself by her deplorable words and conduct during this campaign. Perhaps if Hillary were to apologize to Obama we would get this all behind us and he would shake her hand? I hate everything Ted Kennedy stands for but I greatly respect and admire his actions for standing up for what is right and not endorsing the Clintons (they are a package deal no matter what anyone says). I'm independant but since I'm very conservative I have Republican sentiments...with that being said, I find myself liking Obama more and more everytime he has a close encounter of the third kind with....Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  4. Howard C.

    What amazes me most is that some people don't realize how the media can & does put a spin on any issue, topic or story. That could have been the two closest friends cought in a similar pose & the story could have had the exact same spin. It could have been that he (Obama) just turned away to speak with someone who was speaking to him. The photo journalists can take any number of photos, sort out the ones that will suit a spin & run with it. In the meantime, some of us will react (over react) according to what we've been shown and told. Amazing/Disappointing!! However, I would NOT alter the freedom af our Media concerns one bit!

    January 29, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  5. Charles

    I love that Hillary supporters find it admirable that she (and her husband) can play dirty politics, spread lies throw race into the picture.....and all the while smile and shake your hand as if nothing is wrong.

    Well there is something wrong!!!! When did it become so politically correct to be a two faced jerk? I love that Obama had the guts not to play that stupid game and he snubbed her. I am glad to finally see a politician who is not afraid to show that if you are going to be a liar and a racist – then he is not going to pretend to like you.

    It is sad, as I was a big Bill Clinton supporter – but the actions of Hillary 's campaign disgusted me. I had given her a chance – but look at how she is polarizing just the Democratic Party. If she is willing to risk alienating one of the key components of the entire DNC base in the name of her candidacy – what else is she willing to sacrifice?

    If people want to vote for someone who is so blazingly fake, desperate and manipulative – then Hillary is your candidate. But be warned Democrats – I have loathed the republican party over the last 8 years – but based on her actions -If Hillary is the nominee...I will vote AGAINST her.

    January 29, 2008 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  6. Rollin

    From NBC/NJ’s Aswini Anburajan and Domenico Montanaro
    On Obama’s campaign plane, he answered questions about the “snub” moment from the State of the Union and Florida’s relevance, or lack there of, in this nominating process.

    He said he was “surprised” about the photo and how his apparent turning away from Clinton was being characterized.

    “I was turning away because Claire [McCaskill] asked me a question, as Senator Kennedy was reaching for her [Clinton],” Obama said. “And senator Clinton and I have had very cordial relations on the floor and off the floor; I waved at her as we were coming into the Senate chamber before we walked over. I think there's a lot more tea leaf reading going on here than I think people are suggesting.”

    McCaskill was on the plane with Obama to back up his alibi, and she scolded the press for reading something into nothing.

    "It was not a snub," she emphatically declared. "It was one of those accidents. Frankly everyone's spoiling for a fight, which is the politics of old, you know this thing isn't the politics of old. Its about new. It's unfortunate that everyone is so anxious for there to be problem on a personal level and I gotta tell yah, its just not there."

    January 29, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  7. craig m

    1) I now question my support for obama.

    2)Obama behaved immaturely.

    3)Hillary exuberates guts.

    hillary 08

    January 29, 2008 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  8. BO -- Not Ready!

    I need to know that the President of the United States can handle "awkward" moments.

    I ned to know that the Commander in Chief of the United States Military can handles "awkward" moments.

    There will be plenty of "awkward" moments to come for the President of the United States.

    Barack Obama is NOT ready to be President of the United States. He will never keep world leaders at the table with his speech of "hope".

    January 29, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  9. Xavier

    Well this does not make Obama look good. Hillary did not have to go near them, but she did because she knows how to do this. People say Obama was just trying to avoid a awkward moment, so does that mean that the potential president nominee can deal with awkward moments? The last one you need to avoid is the person that the American people are weighing you against. Does not look good.

    January 29, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  10. Chris PHX

    Stan in Pitts Pa-
    I agree completely! How and why do some women generalize all men into one group? Makes no sense. I mean come on... What if I said "Hillary is like all women, she lies, rided her husbands coat tails and cries when things dont go her way" That statement is completely false! All women do not lie, or ride thier husbands coat tails and cry when things dont go thier way. But Hillary does!

    She is to polarizing... She talks about universal heath care like she will be able to accomplish that goal! That was the cornerstone of what she wanted to accomplish in 93'... We all know what happend over the next 7 years! NOTHING! Because NO republicans would even think about bipartisan work with her!

    January 29, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  11. coty

    I have a question does Obamas rlegion proceede him as. whitch means is the stuff about him turning his back on the flag and want put his hand over his heart when the atnthem comes on true because if it is then why vote for somone like that. who wants there president to be like that. if i were a possible canidate i would defenantly confront him about this and let the american public see it.

    January 29, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  12. Peggie

    It was more than obvious watching Barack Obama last night that he DID deliberately turn away when he saw Hillary Clinton. This is not a little thing. His immature behavior speaks volumes. Hillary clinton did what it takes to be a leader....like it or not.

    If she were to walk across a stage and point to a women in the audience and say..." don't go likin my husband too much sister"...even in joking, the networks and these blogs would crucify her. Listen...just watch and listen. Mr. Obama insidiously does the "talk" a lot. Please explain to me why that is acceptable? I believe we are going to learn more as this goes on.

    You can talk the talk, give a good speech, pretend to be ready on the first day, but when making a quick decision if all you can do is turn away and pretend someone wanted to talk to you doesn't say you're ready on the first day. The camera told it all.

    January 29, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  13. stan pitts pa

    On the list of states won, michigan is besides HRC name didnt cnn get the memo? she couldnt have won that state because technically all other candidates werent on the ballot and those delegates dont count? and you wonder why we call you CNN=CLINTONS NEWS NETWORK, because your bias shows in every piece of reporting you do, you people are too pro-hrc, and like i said in my previous posts you are turning a lot of people off!

    January 29, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  14. Kay

    CNN...PLEASE stop trying to "create" news and stick to reporting the facts.

    January 29, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  15. natouche

    So much ink wasted for a single picture. None of you know what really happened. CNN is loving it and you fools are buying it. If it was Hillary who was seen turning her back, the same amount of ink would have been wasted.
    Just ignore it.

    January 29, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  16. Mike Vasen

    Obama should have been more gracious. Hillary shook hands with Ted Kenndy who threw support to her opponent few hrs back. Overall I do not see much of substance, depth and maturity in Obama. No doubt he is good at words and to pretend he is genuine.

    January 29, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  17. Mae

    does it matter? let's just hope that we can get through this charade. Mrs. Clinton is a remarkable woman, she has been belittled , her words have been twisted, but she has held steady during the storm, you slap her for standing by her husband and now slap him for supporting her, why what has she done to those who treat her with such vile?

    January 29, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  18. vic

    This picture tells me everything. Obama is a divider and hypocrite. Now I get it why most of media praise Obama because Republican controlled media and they KNEW that Obama would never be their serious rival. So Republican want Obama beat Hillary. The truth is Republican is afraid of Hillary.
    VOTE HILLARY for Democrat final victory

    January 29, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  19. ke, GA

    This picture speaks a lot....who looks like a leader?

    January 29, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  20. MH

    Folks.. understand that Hillary cannot beat any REPUBLICAN in the general election. I know she has a long list of lobbyist and interest groups behind her, who came up with so many wonderful ideas that you can find in the websites (most of which she cannot fulfill if elected). She has so much negetives... If you want to be under republicans for 4/8 more years, then go vote Hillary... Otherwise try for someone else other than Hillary....

    January 29, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  21. Blitzer

    I think everyone who read into this is retarded! My cousin works for AP and he told me, If you paid attention to when Hilary and Obama entered the building, the both entered seconds before each other. They greeted each other seconds before entering the building. But thanks CNN for steering the pot of gossip! I thought you were above the insider.

    January 29, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  22. BERTO

    MLK once dreamt that his people won't be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. There you are, the content of Obama's character speaks for itself on that moment. He's running for president of the USA not PTA and he should not treat his opponent as his enemy. Shame on this man.

    January 29, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  23. Brian

    And? They are competing. When is that ever not awkward. The media's political coverage is sad, speculative, sensationalistic, and lacks any depth. Way to continue to lower the standards of America.

    January 29, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  24. Jay

    If Clinton and Obama were smiling & shaking hands the caption would say "President & vice-president Deal in the Making" . Either way the haters would be making the same comments. Who are these undecideds that got knocked off the fence because of this picture? HAHAHA

    January 29, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  25. Karen from Minnesota

    This is not the only Obama gaff. He was rude at the first debate and watch his body language during the debates. He really does look down his nose at Hillary and has a puzzling look on his face. Bad fitting contacts? He really needs to look at the old tapes and improve on this. If he is the nominee he will have more reason to look down his nose. They'll swiftboat him, too! How will he handle that.

    January 29, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
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